External Affairs

India Joins Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

The code of conduct was formed in November 2002 with 137 members. China, Pakistan, Israel and Iran have not yet joined the voluntary regime.

Representational Image. Credit: Reuters

Representational Image. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: After years of staying out of the loop, India has joined the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCoC), amidst the rising expectations that New Delhi will soon be part of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

“India has joined the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation by notifying the HCoC Central Contact in Vienna through diplomatic channels,” announced Vikas Swarup, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, at weekly briefing on June 2.

He described the HCoC as “voluntary, legally non-binding international confidence building and transparency measure” that seeks to stop the proliferation of “ballistic missiles that are capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction”.

“India’s joining the Code signals our readiness to further strengthen global non-proliferation objectives,” Swarup added.

The HCoC was formed in November 2002 with 137 members. China, Pakistan, Israel and Iran have not yet joined the voluntary regime.

As a signatory, India will have to provide pre-launch notifications on ballistic missiles, space launch vehicle launches and test flights. India will also need to submit an annual declaration of policy on satellite launch vehicles and ballistic missiles.

India will also make a political commitment “to exercise maximum possible restraint in the development, testing and deployment of Ballistic Missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, including, where possible, to reduce national holdings of such missiles, in the interest of global and regional peace and security”.

To a query on what impact India joining the HCoC will have on its Agni missile programme, Swarup said, “Our national security interest will not be impacted in any manner, whatsoever, by joining [the] HCoC”.

The accession to the HCoC – which is seen as a “supplement” to the MTCR – comes at a time when roadblocks seem to be clearing up for India to the export control regime.

India had applied to join the MTCR in July 2015, but entry was stymied by Italy in October 2015. The return of the last Italian marine in compliance to The Hague arbitral tribunal order removes Rome’s objection and opens the door for New Delhi, since membership approval is done through consensus.

“As far as [the] MTCR is concerned, our application is on track and well-received, and we expect that process of India’s membership would be completed soon,” said Swarup optimistically.

The European Union and the US were quick to welcome India’s adherence to the Vienna-based regime. “India’s subscription reinforces its support for international missile non-proliferation and will help increase transparency and strengthen security,” said the US state department spokesperson.

Similarly, the EU spokesperson said, “This step will contribute to enhancing transparency and security among States in South Asia and beyond”.

“All States which have not yet subscribed to the Code of Conduct, in particular those possessing space launch vehicles and ballistic missile capabilities, should follow this example,” added the EU spokesperson.

The US had been putting pressure on India to be a member of the HCoC over the years. In 2006, Indian officials had held out against its joining the HCoC on the ground that there should be progress in completing the US-India civil nuclear energy cooperation pact first.

The 123 pact was signed in 2008 and within a few months, the US renewed its push with a demarche.

“Although previous HCoC overtures to India have not yielded positive results and India abstained on a 2008 United Nations General Assembly resolution supporting the HCoC, we believe India may now be more open to considering subscribing given the conclusion of the 123 Agreement (entered into force December 6, 2008) and the steps taken by India to shore up its non-proliferation credentials to enable such cooperation,” said the April 2009 cable from secretary of state to US embassy in India, now part of the Wikileaks trove.

A month later, the then Ministry of External Affairs joint secretary for disarmament and internal security affairs, Gaddam Dharmendra, replied to the demarche by saying India still had reservations about joining the HCoC. India’s “difficulties” were based on the “inability to differentiate between technology used in ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles”.

So far whenever the UN General Assembly (UNGA) passed a resolution on the HCoC, India had been among the dozen-odd countries sitting on the fence. The last time that UNGA approved a resolution was in December 2014, when 167 countries voted in favour and Iran cast the sole negative vote. India was among the seven countries that abstained from voting.

There has been criticism that the provisions of the HCoC have never been adhered to by its main members, with the US and Russia having been laggards at notifying the missile launches.